has been writing since fifth grade, a year after her mother forbade her from watching television all day. Her fantasy and science-fiction stories have placed second in the 2005 and 2006 Miami-Dade County Youth Fair writing competition and won first place in 2007. She invites readers to visit her blog http://pseudonymousfictionwriter.blogspot.com/ and to sample her bakery witch webcomic at http://alamode.smackjeeves.com.
I stopped the truck by a cracked sidewalk. The road slanted so that my truck leaned to one side. Typical construction failure.
A man waited. These days he would be called a “young adult”. He had greying black hair, green eyes the color of summer grass before the sun sets it on fire, and a gun. He pointed it and opened the side door.
“Where to?” I asked him.
“Tin Grove. Aren’t you going to ask why?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Better buckle up; the cops are brutal with seatbelt laws.”
He did as I said, fastening the seatbelt with his left hand. He was in a hurry.
“Your truck smells like a fishing boat. Filled with rotting fish heads.”
“It used to smell worse when it was a boat.”
For a moment, he understood. Comprehension hit those summer grass eyes. Then he snorted and jabbed the gun against my ear.
“Very funny. Got a name, Grandpa?”
“I lost my name a long time ago.” I bowed my head in shame. “Now I am Ferry. I take people to where they die.”
“Let me guess,” he drawled. “The system gave you a label and wanted to give you medication. Me too!” He withdrew the gun and offered his hand. “Shane Topy. Half-Asian manic bipolar.”
“Ferry. No last name. Dishonored truck driver.”
“Oh, so you don’t know what you’re sick with. I’m guessing paranoid schizophrenia.” He looked out the window. “Better start the truck, Ferocious. Cops don’t like idlers.”
I took out my rusty keys. The oldest, rustiest copper fang went into the ignition. My cat, in her basket in the backseat, purred along with the engine. She hissed when Shane tried to pet her.
Forgive me, Chimera, I thought. Just another passenger.
Shane didn’t pull the gun on me again. He didn’t have to. I knew where Tin Grove was. I knew how his blood would spatter the sidewalk. That look in his eye would stay on when he fired into the crowd. Nothing would smack the look off his face, not even death.
“So Ferry, you’ve heard of the cheerleaders?”
“Who hasn’t?” Cheerleaders were the people who spoke against the mentally ill, who said they didn’t need government support to pay for medication.
“God must be proud of them.” Shane sounded sarcastic.
“God alone knows what He’s proud of,” I responded. Chimera purred, and perhaps my master heard as well.
“You mean God’s not happy?”
“He may be. Once, a god, not God, was displeased. A man had abandoned an assigned post, a very important post, and gave it to an idiot king.”
“The man was told that if he gave his oars to a random passenger, the victim would have to row.” I tried not to sound bitter. “Only the first man didn’t realize that the king was an idiot. The king also couldn’t row for beans. So the first man’s master punished him by giving him back the boat, permanently. The king was allowed to die and forget his trials.”
Shane considered this. He fiddled with his gun’s chambers.
“That poor guy,” he said. “He should have shot the master’s head off.”
I found myself shivering at the thought.
“Some mob’s going to be rallied around the Tin Grove City Hall, about funding for the nut jobs receiving free therapy. Mostly cheerleaders bringing their little girls out, brainwashing them.” He rolled the cylinder around and brought it to his head. He mimed banging it. “I’m going to do them a favor.”
We drove in silence. The traffic lights had been cleaned so that each green signal gleamed like a hero’s lantern. I didn’t feel heroic, however. Shane did.
“Why do they plague us?” he said. “Don’t they realize that we’re sick, that we need help? What’s it going to take? A few bullets?”
“Slaughter, as did Ramses and Moses?” I murmured. The taste of blood filled my mouth.
“Slaughter.” He nodded. “They need to see we’re dangerous. We won’t just lie quietly.” The gun clicked in his hand.
I knew the folly of his thought; the years had taught me. A body for a body, blood would spill, but minds wouldn’t change. Brains have that amazing quality; they’re as squishy as a kitchen sponge but less able to accept change. Shane had the same spongy brain as the cheerleaders that he wanted to shoot.
Why did I care? I was Ferry. My hair was long and greasy, and my eyes held the image of an ancient ocean filled with rotting plankton and parasites. I drove people to where they would die, till they stank like the unwashed leather on the seats.
Yet I pulled into a parking lot. It was next to a grocery store, one of those chains with a maple leaf icon.
“What are you doing?”
“Here.” I handed him the keys and lied. “You’re going to need a getaway vehicle.”
“You’re serious?” He stared at the rusty keys like it was a trick. They left iron flecks on his hands.
“Your van stinks.”
“It’ll hide your trail.” I shrugged. “License plates, you know. Traced back to original owner.”
He thought about this. I unbuckled the seatbelt and reached into the back for Chimera. She clawed but didn’t leap out of my arms.
“Take care of the truck,” I said.
He nodded, saluted me with the gun. Dust swirled around us in the grocery store lot.
I had never really seen my truck from the outside. It was a dirty red color, like someone had mixed maroon paint and potting soil and splashed it over the fenders. The tires flattened against the road and set off.
“You did the right thing,” someone said.
I turned around. A man with a modern blonde haircut and a white tuxedo leaned against the grocery store entrance. His eyes, unlike mine, were calm droplets from the Mediterranean Sea.
“You did. Here, you must be thirsty.” He tossed me a can of soda. I opened the tab, first let Chimera drink some, and gulped half. Bubbles burned in my throat.
“You work for the Greek?”
“Holy Spirit.” He opened a glass bottle of lime pop and licked the metal cap. Some dripped on his tuxedo, but the green stains vanished as soon as they hit the collar.
The truck’s sound died long after it had vanished, that familiar clunking of wheels, protesting to be let out onto foul water. I coughed my soda, thinking of how the truck would take control of Shane. How he’d never get to City Hall, only to the teenage runaways several miles north of Tin Grove. They had been next on my list, after Shane.
“You realize that your master will make you pay,” the handsome man said. “We can offer you a new job. One with better perks.”
“I stink of fish and sea slime.”
“You could take a shower.”
I snorted. Soda went through my nose. Chimera leaped away as I coughed cherry syrup onto on the ground.
“You think I’m joking?” He tossed me something else. I raised my left hand and caught a business card. “I know cherubim. I know the Spirit.”
I weighed the card in my hand, read the name printed in Gothic curls.
“Can you give me back my name, Tobias, if that is yours?”
“If you come with me.” He offered the hand with the soda bottle. “Coming?”
I thought. Shane would realize that he had been tricked after driving for sweltering days. My master would be angry. More eternal punishment and driving. Maybe Chimera would get hurt.
As if reading my thoughts, my cat nodded. She didn’t want to suffer.
I went to Tobias, taking large steps, and shook his hand. He smelled like clean beach sand.
“Welcome back, Charon,” he said. “We have a good job for you. It doesn’t involve driving.”
I bowed my head. We walked, and I let the name carry me the whole way.
Charon. Not what I was. Who I was. Who I am.
I was someone. I was a person. And I was free.